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How My Disability Makes Me a Better Designer

Creating an environment where diversity and inclusion can thrive

UX/UI Design
3 minute read 

If I had to pick the most inspiring talk from Config, it would be no other than Haraldur Thorleifsson’s amazing approach to life, design and resilience. For years, I concealed my disability, only sharing it with my closest friends. In the larger context of disabilities, mine is minor, allowing me to lead a fulfilling life. However, as someone with essential tremors—a physical disability causing uncontrollable shakes — I've developed a keen eye for design, particularly handheld objects. Today, I want to delve into a few areas of digital design that I've evolved in, which have greatly shaped me as a designer.

User-Centred Design: Not Just a Buzzword

My definition of user-centred design changed drastically after my diagnosis. Initially, I viewed the user as the most ordinary and typical individual, representing the everyday user. Designing for them seemed relatively easy.

I have gained a profound understanding of the true importance of exceptional user-centred design. It considers each unique user from the outset, creating an environment where diversity and inclusion can thrive, and ensuring that everyone feels welcomed and valued when engaging with the digital product.

A truly user-centred product is not only customisable but also meticulously crafted. Apple stands at the forefront of accessible design, and I highly recommend exploring its accessibility settings if you haven't already.

Attention to Detail: Don’t Overlook the Little Things

Given that my tremors primarily affect my hands, mobile-first is an outlook I pay extra attention to. I often encounter common interface mistakes, such as small buttons on mobile devices or insufficient spacing between touch targets. Having faced these challenges, I now understand how to design better and appreciate white space and perfect sizing.

My advice to any UX/UI designer is to test your Figma prototypes on mobile devices, ideally with a diverse range of testers, to ensure good accessibility. Opt for large CTA buttons and do not be afraid to allow space between elements. Remember, the more space the better. If you're unsure where to begin, the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) serves as an excellent resource for designing accessible digital products. Pay particular attention to SC 2.5.8: Target Size (Minimum).

Empathy: Understanding & Empathising Through Personal Experience

Within the realm of UX, we are often reminded that empathy is crucial. However, I have observed that many designers lean towards sympathy rather than true empathy when considering users. Reflecting on this, I think I was one of them.

Claire Miller’s article in The New York Times, How to be More Empathetic explores various aspects of empathy and highlights the importance of acknowledging biases and checking your privilege. I, too, must admit that I was lacking true empathy until my change in circumstances. Now, I notice nuances I previously overlooked, exhibit greater patience and find myself relating all too often to individuals navigating challenges.


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Problem-Solving: Overcoming Obstacles by Finding Creative Solutions

Having a limitation opens the horizon to 100 new opportunities. Designing within tighter parameters allows me to tap into my problem-solving skills and find other ways to improve creative solutions that challenge the limitations set by my disability. Instead of viewing obstacles as roadblocks, I see them as opportunities to think outside the box and push the boundaries of what is possible.

Living with a disability has meant that I adapt and find alternative methods to accomplishing tasks. This adaptive mindset translates directly into my design process. I approach challenges with a unique perspective. By embracing my limitations I can identify pain points and design solutions that cater to a range of users. The go-to tool that helps me design better is Cards for Humanity. These are a great resource for understanding whether your product caters to an inclusive community.

Final Thoughts

My new superpower has allowed me to gain a unique perspective that influences my approach to design. By paying attention to small details and deepening my understanding of others, I feel empowered to create interfaces and journeys that cater to the diverse needs of users. Embracing my limitations has become a catalyst for innovation.

By focusing on the positive aspects of my condition and reflecting on how it has transformed me and fostered my career growth, I have discovered its impact on my connection with others. It has taught me to appreciate and embrace differences. I am constantly reminded that not all disabilities are visible. Design with this in mind and let us create a more inclusive world.